Health and the singer

Let me start with a little bit about myself. I’m a forty year old male. For thirty nine of those years, I never had any health problems. Sure, I live in Michigan, so I have allergies… so many allergies. However, for the most part, no major illnesses. That held true up until the fall of 2016.

My wife and I had our first child together in May. I wanted her to be able to stay at home with him, so I worked two jobs all summer in order to make ends meet while we waited to go back to school. For her, she was entering her first year of clinicals for the nursing program at the University of Michigan-Flint. For me, I had just finished my masters in arts administration at the University of Michigan-Flint, and was about to embark on something I had wanted since I was a kid: being a student at the main campus of the University of Michigan. There’s a lot of maize and blue love in my family, so I’m sure some of you can relate, while others are rolling your eyes. Either way is fine by me. 🙂

One of my jobs was bartending at a local hole in the wall. The money was good, but I was there all the time. Needless to say, this coupled with working a second job and having a new baby did nothing for me getting any sleep. By the end of the summer, I had no energy, and I was gaining weight (which made sense, I worked in a bar. The menu didn’t exactly feature whole foods and organic kale).

When I went to Michigan, instead of being in this state of excitement, I was filled with dread and anxiety. For those of you that personally know me, this is very unusual for me. I chalked all of this up to just being overwhelmed with everything that was going on. However, as a couple weeks went by, this anxiety turned into depression, and the weight kept coming on.

Finally, one Sunday I woke up and my legs were swollen. When I say swollen, I mean my feet looked like footballs, and my calves were proportional. I was light headed, I didn’t want to get out of bed, and just felt horrible overall. My wife, being a nursing student, immediately checked my vitals and my blood pressure was out of control. This set off a slew of tests that took over a month to complete (including a kidney biopsy), but I was eventually diagnosed with idiopathic collapsing focal segmental glomulerosclerosis. Say that five times fast.

Over the course of the next six months, what I have learned about this disease is that nobody really knows what causes it (especially in my case), it’s pretty rare, and there isn’t really one specific standard effective treatment. I’ve been on several medications to control the edema, control my blood pressure, and to combat the damage being done by my own body to my kidneys.

You might be asking yourself: what on earth does this have to do with singing? The moral of my story involves listening to your body. I went for most of my first year of grad school, in a master of music performance program, without the ability to sing. My last six weeks of my second semester I could barely talk. Part of this had to do with medication (lisinopril is the devil… and so is prednisone). Part of this was the illness sapping my energy. A lot of adults joke that we need naps at two in the afternoon. For me, this was a reality. Consequently, lack of energy translates into lack of support for your sound. Part of this was due to the swelling, as the edema sometimes was in my throat. And part of it was because I have to suppress my immune system in order for my kidneys to heal, and as a result I had strep throat for six weeks.

None of this was any fun. I’m well on the way to recovery, but I cannot stress enough how, especially as a singer, you must listen to your body. We aren’t like guitars where we can see a string that is broken and go “you know, I need to fix that.” We have to rely on sensation. Illness and medication can and will affect you, and it will probably be totally different than how it affected me. Take care of yourselves, be proactive, and above all, stay healthy.

Keep on singing, friends.


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